The Fate of the “Good Thief” on the Cross

When Jesus was being crucified, there were two criminals that were also hanging on a cross, one on each side of him. One of the criminals is known as being the “good thief.” The criminal opposite the “good thief” mocked Jesus by telling him that if he really is the Christ of God, then he should save himself and come off the cross. To which, the “good thief” responded, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your kingly power.”And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise (Luke 23:40-43).” Have you ever wondered what Jesus meant when he said that he will be with him in paradise this day? Was he saved, and if so, where did the “good thief” go? Did the he go to heaven as we know it, or was it another place?

When Jesus says “today,” he was not talking about a 24 hour period of time. In eternity, there is no day or night. Jesus was talking about the place of the dead. “Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom“…(Catechism of the Catholic Church #633).”

We see in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, Jesus tells us the story of the rich man and Lazarus the poor man. He tells us that, “The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried; and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus in his bosom.” When Jesus died, he went to this “abode of the dead” to preach the gospel to the dead and free the holy souls who were waiting for the redeemer to come. “’The gospel was preached even to the dead.’ The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption (CCC #634).” In 1 Peter, we see this referenced, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit; in which he went and preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:18-19).” thB6TT134M

Sheol was a place where all who died went before Christ died and rose from the dead. Both the righteous and the unrighteous went there. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, it seems that the rich man goes to a type of hell which was separated from paradise where Lazarus goes. Paradise in this setting is not the heaven as we will know it. In other words, it is not the beatific vision, but it is the holding place for those people that will go to heaven once it is opened by Christ. So, the “good thief” on the cross would have gone to this holding place Jesus refers to as paradise. After Jesus preaches to the spirits in this place, then he would be able to enter heaven.

Until next time, God bless.

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